Give Volunteer Fire Units a Break

Not so many years ago, volunteer fire departments were simple organizations. Men and women gave of their time to be trained, then stood ready to answer emergency calls at short notice. Occasionally they would ask the public or government for money to keep fire stations up or to replace equipment.

It was a system that worked well, and continues to do so. Most Ohio Valley residents rely on volunteer firefighters.

But things got complicated a few years ago. State and federal governments began treating volunteer fire departments as businesses, not private organizations. For example, in West Virginia, they are required to pay workers’ compensation premiums for their members. That drove one local unit, the Big Wheeling Creek VFD, to close a couple of years ago.

Now the federal government is piling on through Obamacare.

Under the health care law, volunteer fire departments are treated as businesses. Their firefighters are viewed by the Internal Revenue Service as “employees” – meaning volunteer fire units will have to provide government-approved health insurance to their members. Presumably, they will be fined if they refuse to do so.

That is absurd, of course – but, as President Barack Obama is so fond of saying, it’s the law of the land.

Most volunteer firefighters hold down jobs at real businesses. They should be able to obtain health insurance there. Why on earth are the federal bureaucrats coming down hard on volunteer fire departments?

It could cost the units thousands of dollars per member if they are required to meet the Obamacare requirement. Most cannot afford that. All would prefer to spend any cash they find lying around the firehouse to update equipment used to safeguard the public.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is co-sponsoring a bill to exempt volunteer fire and emergency medical departments from the mandate. The measure is HR 3685, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.

“It is unfair to penalize these men and women, who put their lives on the line with each and every call,” McKinley said in explaining his support for the bill.

He is absolutely right. HR 3685 should be enacted as soon as possible.